How do YOU pronounce ukulele? It's an argument that has been running for years and years. I kind of hoped it must have run its course by now, but no. The 'what is the correct way to pronounce ukulele debate' is alive and kicking. I lose the will to live with it. Anyway, I thought it was probably time to nail my colours to the mast. (Or at the very least give me an easy to find statement that I can just share on the next discussion that I see going on and on)..
|Please note - this is 'irony'...|
Only very recently on a very well known social media group this debate raged YET AGAIN and ran into around a hundred comments... In the red corner: Those who claim that it must be pronounced 'OOK-KUH-LAY-LAY' and in the blue corner, those who claim that it muct be pronounced 'YOO-KUH-LAY-LEE'. Both sides fight their corners with venom, some making quite outlandish claims and always with a sprinkling of 'i'm offended'.. And it's not the first time - many people witnessing the debate were shaking their heads thinking ' please...not this again..'
So who is right? Well, they BOTH are. And that is what makes the argument quite so ridiculous.
The Ook brigade are, in the main, traditionalists who choose to pronounce the name of the instrument in the native Hawaiian style. In fact, in Hawiian the instrument is spelled with an apostrophe type symbol before the U, so it reads 'Ukulele. That's called an 'Okina' and denotes that the pronunciaton should be a soft U, giving you the 'Ook' sound. Compelling huh?
Well, I cannot argue with the Hawaiian tongue as being correct, but only IF YOU ARE HAWAIIAN. If you are Hawaiian that is exactly how you will pronounce it because you are, errr.. Hawaiian. I am not. I am from the rainy North West of the UK.
You see, language is a quite wonderful living thing and it changes as you move around the globe. In fact it can change within regions of the same country. In the UK words like 'bath' and 'castle' will differ in pronunciation depending on which County you are in. It's essentially vernacular - and it relates to the common parlance of the district, region or country that changes the way words are pronounced. Put simply, a particular region of population will pronounce a word in the way that is most common for the area they are in. It's the same reason some people in the US pronounce words like Oregano, Aluminium, Duke, Zebra, Yoghurt, Semi, Vase, Buoy, Futile, Anti, Schedule, Herb and Garage differently to the way people in the UK pronounce them. Neither side is 'wrong' - they are just pronouncing words in the way that is most common in where they live. English speakers pronounce the name of the capital of France as 'Pah-Riss' whereas the French (and they should know) pronounce it 'Pah-Ree'. But both sides know exactly what they mean, and to the best of my knowledge they don't slug it out on social media groups arguing which is right. And they don't do that because they know how language works. They are just phonological differences, but the words still make total sense. And in fact, such phonological differences not only within different regions but also over time too.
Some people have surnames that are difficult to pronounce and get irritated when people get it wrong. I totally get that because it is your actual name. But it's completely different with an inanimate object and I have yet to meet the person who named the ukulele in person..
So with the ukulele, whether YOOK or OOK, the debate just rolls on and on and on and on (and on). I've seen people get quite upset by it and I've seen people suggesting it is in some way disrespectful or rude to Hawaiians to pronounce it any way other than the native way. What absolute and total nonsense. It's just a word and in the same way the French don't get offended by people pronouncing the name of their capital differently, neither should the Hawaiins be offended. (In fact, I would be surprised if true Hawaiians were actually offended, and they would probably just be pleased you played a uke - rather I suspect those who 'claim' offence are the sort of people who just like being offended... we all know someone like that).
Heck, Hawaii is part of the USA, but even some parts of the US itself pronounce it 'YOOK' so it's not even an 'America vs the rest of the world' phenomenon..
I saw one defence of the 'Ook' pronunciation as 'the Hawaiian dictionary gives the phonetic word soundings as it being 'OOK'. I am sure it does - why would it not? It's a Hawaiian dictionary! But in the Oxford Dictionary (the bastion of the English language in the UK) the pronunciation guide suggests it is 'YOOK'... and so we go on.. (Incidentally, Websters and Collins dictionaries also both favour the 'YOOK' variety...)
But arguing the point based on reasonings such as those above is rather pointless. These arguments on both sides miss the understanding of language differences and vernacular.
I suppose it could be worse - the debate about the spelling seems to have died down (note - BOTH of these are technically correct for the same reason).
|credit - Tim Harries|
So please, come on.. - recognise that language changes around the world and over time. It's how it works. Nobody 'owns' it and so long as you are understood between other humans who speak the same or similar languages, that really is all that matters. We can all be right in our own way. Nobody is trashing your heritage or trying to be offensive. If you have your way of pronouncing it that differs to others, then that is absolutely fine if you are understood (whichever way you pronounce it). And if you think differently I will ask you whether you keep a buoy in your garage and whether your aluminium vase has herbs in it... in the British way... (and then get really offended if you don't sound like you are from Downton Abbey). Honestly, I really don't care how you pronounce it and neither should you...
(And if you are one of those people who think that you can only pronounce things the way the native speaker does - have you thought for a moment that you might be like this guy?)
EDIT - it's been said on Social Media (and in the comments below) that I am missing an important point here - I really dont think so actually. I DO recognise the arguments on both sides. I see them fully. I am not trying to belittle or wipe out either argument - the whole point of the post is that both sides of the argument are so strong that the debate is pointless. Neither side will win. Neither side will prevail and ensure that the other way of saying the word will stop. Yes some of those arguments can be powerful and can surround heritage and some horrible history. But ultimately, language is resilient to such things (and rightly so in my opinion). As such, the basic premise of the post stands as far as I am concerned. Before you choose to get offended - my view is - 'you are both right' but so what. Just play the damn thing!
And if you enjoyed this rant, you may enjoy my other ukulele rants here. Some posts to read over coffee while you scratch the varnish from your desk with your fingernails in despair..
© Barry Maz